The problem with Fox News is not that it’s a right-wing platform for war, intolerance, and greed; it isn’t that it’s spreading propaganda in support of an out-of-control White House that is hoarding unprecedented levels of power; it isn’t that they engage in relentless and unfounded attacks on Democrats, progressives, and the rest of the 72% of Americans that Fox portrays as unpatriotic because they disapprove of Mr. Bush and his war; it isn’t even that it sits at the center of a politically charged media empire run by Rupert Murdoch, a monopolistic ideologue with no allegiance to country or the common good.
Certainly any one of those things would reasonably explain a sharp increase in chronic anxiety, and the combination could set off an epidemic of cerebral aneurysms. But these are not the problems with Fox News.
The problem with Fox News is that people care about Fox News. What I hope to prove here is that it isn’t necessary or useful to do so. They are a constituency whose currency has been devalued by a deliberately constricted field of political viewpoints. In economic terms, the Fox dollar has crashed and it’s time to divest.
The partisan perspective at Fox is not so much a slant as it is a vertical incline. They themselves make little attempt to disclaim their bias. The network adopted its slogan, “Fair and Balanced,” not to signal a practice of evenly weighted reporting, but to indicate their intention to counter a news media that they believed was predominantly liberal. Fox News’ president and chief executive officer, Roger Ailes, even admitted that, “Anybody who says bias does not exist is either lying or stupid.” Not wishing to be cast as either, I’ll take Mr. Ailes at his word and concede that Fox News is biased.
Any evaluation of the social or political impact of that bias is, or course, dependent on the composition of the viewing audience. It would be safe to say that if Sean Hannity broadcast his program into a convention of the Feminist Union Members Against Global Warming, his words would have negligible influence. Obviously, that crowd would be less than receptive to Hannity’s factless fatuousnous. However, he would be equally as ineffectual before an audience of the Pro-life Caucus of the National Rifle Association. While he would be well received, it’s impossible to persuade people to adopt a point of view that they already hold. Consequently, his appearance would produce a net gain of nothing. And the same is true for any Democrat who hopes to profit from appearing on Fox News.
Let’s take a look at the make-up of Fox’s audience. One of the more foreboding characteristics of this group is that they appear to be more loyal to Fox than to Republicans or conservatism. This is a malady that I previously described in The Cult Of Foxonality. Here are three surveys that paint a consistent picture of Fox viewers as a devout congregation of true believers, incapable of critical thought.
- The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press just completed a study that shows that Republicans are more likely to find fault with the media than non-Republicans. But Republicans for whom Fox is their primary source of news, the number is even higher.
- World Public Opinion conducted a study in 2005 that proved that Fox viewers were significantly more likely to have misperceptions about the war in Iraq. And viewers who paid more attention were even more misinformed.
- The Mellman Group’s research revealed that Fox viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88% to 7%. Only Republicans were more united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.
What is there in that assembly that holds value for politicians or pundits of the progressive stripe, save for disdain and abuse? The potential for comrades or converts is so small as to be virtually nonexistent. It is long past time for Democrats to recognize this simple fact and resolve to stop allowing themselves to be used for target practice by disingenuous pseudo-journalists whose purpose is to defame and defeat them in politics and public opinion.
The Democrats that recently declined to participate in a Fox-sponsored primary debate proved that there are no discernible repercussions for exhibiting such moral fortitude.
The sole consequence of their defiance was that the agents of Fox set about to disparage them – again. But Fox would have gone on the attack even if they had agreed to participate. Observe the sample of fairness and balance in the video here, and ask yourself whether John Edwards would be justified in shunning Fox News.
So if going on Fox News can’t help Democrats, and staying off can’t hurt them, why is there still a debate about the future course of action? Here’s why…..
Fox News touts itself as the #1 cable news network. On the surface, that’s a plausibly accurate assertion that creates the illusion that an appearance on Fox is potentially advantageous. But, as shown above, it is not.
The other cable news networks, and even the broadcast and newspaper outfits, are intimidated by Fox’s perceived girth. Apparently this turns them into raging imbeciles who conclude that the way to compete with Fox is by emulating them. This behavior is emblematic of an industry that thrives on plagiarism whether it be inspired by a hit movie, a sitcom, or a pop tune. But you cannot beat Fox by copying it. Fans of Fox’s brand of sludge know good slime when they are wallowing in it and they will not settle for cheap imitations.
To make matters worse, competing networks have misunderstood the nature of Fox’s success and are, thus, copying the wrong components. It is not conservatism that draws viewers to Fox – It is conflict. Fox’s strategy was to dress up news as entertainment, employing a formula that includes drama, humor, sentimentality, suspense, sex, and visual and aural cacophony. All the elements of a good, escapist movie-of-the-week. And entertainment has always been a better ratings magnet than news. However…
The ratings story is a fraud. By accepting the premise of an all-powerful Fox Dynasty, everyone from their competitors to their critics to their guests, and even their hosts, are falling prey to a myth. While Fox is indeed the leader in average audience share, when measured by cumulative audience, CNN still beats Fox by delivering more unique viewers (see more here and here). Additionally, the relative performance of cable news is still far below that of its broadcast cousins. Even SpongeBob SquarePants has a bigger audience than Fox’s #1 show, the O’Reilly Factor.
So there goes the only remaining weapon in Fox’s arsenal. It should now be clear that Fox is neither a gateway to valuable audience exposure, nor a hospitable port for wayward Democrats. The way is now clear to steer wide of Fox News altogether. This new course can lead to a number of considerable benefits.
|The O’Reilly Interview 101
Ask direct yes or no questions where one answer is clearly reprehensible and the other is totally meaningless, and bully your guest into responding.
“Do you want the U.S. to lose in Iraq? Well, do you?”
Create an association with an unpopular (preferably mischaracterized) opinion with the broadest attribution possible.
“Do you agree with Harry Belafonte, and the rest of the liberal establishment, that Venezuela should take over America?”
Never concede on substance, even if your arguments are demonstrably false.
“Saddam Hussein did too meet with Osama Bin Laden at Michael Moore’s compound in Libya – Twice.”
Employ ad hominims liberally.
“Why should anyone listen to a radical, Kool-Aid drinking, far-left loon like you?”
Shout louder than your guests and interrupt frequently, especially when they are making a good point.
[Inspired by KimChi]
Stop the Masochism
First and foremost, it would put an end to the unnecessary submission to assaults from disreputable smearcasters with demonstrably hostile intentions. Bill O’Reilly is the premium model for such encounters. It is impossible to win a debate with him because he doesn’t care about winning. He is only concerned with generating the sort of heat that fuels his ego and his ratings. He only books three types of guests: Those who agree with him; those he can dominate; and those he can exploit. Don’t be one of them.
The Sinking of Fox
The loss of Democrats as foils would transform the character of Fox’s conflict-driven programming, resulting in less controversy and, hence, lower ratings. Viewers would quickly become bored with repeated appearances by Fred Barnes, Michelle Malkin, Dick Morris, and Geraldo Rivera. Minus the shoutfests, and the potential for on-air meltdowns, there is no reason to watch Fox. Neil Cavuto is already whining about his inability book A-list Democrats, and O’Reilly has made it a staple of his program to lambaste no-shows as cowards. That’s a desperation move on his part because he knows he can’t force guests into his inquisitor’s lair. When the entertainment value of Fox disappears, so will its audience, its ratings, and its cache in the media.
Deprive Fox of Bragging Rights
One of the most galling traits of Fox personalities is the way they use their ratings to validate their disinformation agenda. But even if the ratings story weren’t a myth as described above, they still have a flawed argument. McDonald’s is the #1 restaurant in America. I don’t think that anyone interprets that to mean that they have the best food. What they have is the cheapest crap that is loaded with filler and seasoning to appeal to the largest number of consumers with the least sophisticated taste (Hey, that’s a pretty good description of Fox News). Absent their ratings victories, however, they can’t even make this flawed argument.
Affirm Fox’s Lack of Credibility
The mere act of not showing up sends a message that Fox is not deserving or reputable. By sequestering Fox they will be left to themselves and their minions to dispense their McNews. It will make it that much more obvious to observe how they are attempting to denigrate their ideological opponents and to manipulate popular opinion.
Encourage More Responsible Journalism
By using discretion when formulating a media strategy, Democrats can strike a blow in favor of a more honest and independent press. It does not further the goals of ethical journalism to accommodate deceitful practitioners. Conversely, it does advance such goals to purposefully engage media who adhere to higher standards. What’s bad for Fox is good for journalism.
Rupert Murdoch and his rightist platform for propaganda must not be further appeased. All previous efforts to abate the influence of Fox News have failed because they generally reserved a place for Fox in the effort. This has to stop. It’s time to go cold turkey.
Starve The Beast
The solution is obvious. Democrats and progressives have got to swear off Fox News. They must decline all interviews. They must stay off of that tainted air. They must avoid the Stuttering Jesse’s (Watters, O’Reilly’s producer) that are resorting to ambush interviews. They must continue to refuse to participate in Foxic events like debates or forums. And if they find themselves trapped in an appearance from which they cannot escape, they must be certain to pepper their remarks with the truth about Fox. Let the audience know that this network is degrading public discourse and leading viewers astray. And don’t let the bullies steer the dialog.
Progressive politicians and pundits must be called upon to heed this advice. It is more than just a request. It is an obligation. Every time one of our representatives appears on Fox, they are setting back our agenda. They are not just wasting a little time trying to confront the enemy in its lair. They are literally causing harm to the efforts of the rest of us who are fervently struggling to repair and improve our country. Anyone in our political provinces who betrays our mission by succumbing to the Fox siren should be firmly scolded and educated as to the damage they are inflicting.
I propose that we have a routine response to the weak and the fraternizers. If you should spot one of them across enemy lines, send them a link to this article with this introduction:
Please stop hurting our cause by appearing on Fox News. Rupert Murdoch and his media megaphone is openly hostile to our agenda and our representatives. They will only use your appearance to distort your message and derail our mission. Studies have proven that their audience is unreceptive, and even antagonistic, to us. Your appearance will be rewarded more with ridicule than respect.
I therefore request that you refrain from such appearances in order that you not do further damage to the goals we share by helping to strengthen the foremost advocate of our defeat.
If we can build a united front against the lies and insults that are the daily repast on Fox, we can also start to reform the broader media landscape that is bewitched by Fox’s aura. And it is long past time that we break this sorcerer’s spell.
See also the update: Starve The Beast: Appetite For Distortion